Thursday, June 19, 2008


Dateline: June 19, 2008
Location: deep inside a prison cell in Florida


I want to recap some more of the prison roller coaster ride I've been on lately and add that I'm so fortunate to be a strong-minded person. If I were weak, I would have freaked out a long time ago. When I'd been in prison about seven years, while speaking to a group of "free people," one asked me, "How in the world have you been able to do all that time in prison?"

After spending over thirty years in prison, someones amazement that I had been able to successfully serve over seven years of imprisonment might seem laughable, but it's not, and the answer remains the same: "Like a man." you must be a man in prison, withstand all the challenges and travails, or not. The "not" is unacceptable.

After being subjected to threats and harassment by a verbally-abusive sergeant whose personality disorder requires all the unfortunate prisoners under his flawed "command" to be subservient snitches and sycophants, which I am not, I realized I had to get out from under his evil authority or see his threats of unwarranted lockup and writeups reach fruition. I requested a job change, and quickly found myself in food service, the chow hall, their version of punitive action.

"Please don't throw me in the briar patch!" That cry is especially relevant in prison, when dealing with hateful, angry, spiteful people. Racism is alive and well in prison, but every few years, when I'm at loggerheads with some hateful guard who deems it his role in life to make life miserable for prisoners, and in particular to teach me a lesson, invariably it is a "white" guard, usually of the "redneck" persuasion, whose attitudes, speech, and manner make it very easy to visualize him in his peaked hat and robes, at night, dancing around a fire, burning a cross with his cohorts. Guards like that just don't like me, and do everything their little pea brains can concoct to vex me, provoke me to respond in a way that will justify the escalation of their negative actions.

So when they found themselves supposedly spiting me by sticking me in the kitchen, it became a "briarpatch moment" for me, and I vowed to make the very best of it, to be the MVP in the kitchen, even though I am by far the oldest prisoner working in the kitchen, a job dominated by young, strong black prisoners.

Now that I've been there almost a month, it is time to pack up my sore back, neck, and aching feet, and to move on to a less strenuous line of work than the six day, 48-hour work week in the kitchen.

I keep saying that the people running the prisons have no idea what they're doing, but if the goal is to provoke already psychologically-challenged prisoners to flip out, "go psych," or commit acts of violence against themselves or others, they are doing a good job.

Every day there are fights, the stress levels and tensions have been pumped so high. As many as nineteen prisoners have been under suicide watch at one time in recent days, requiring a separate guard to sit and watch each one, virtually crippling prison operations. Yesterday, one prisoner in a wheelchair cut the throat of another wheelchair-bound prisoner, and reports are mixed as to whether he lived or died.

Every day it gets worse. They reassign the worst harassers to be in charge of the housing area with the worst "psych three's," prisoners with the shakiest mental problems, on the most medication, asking for incidents, and I live right in the middle of all that. It is very tough.

Some good news, though - my friend, Dan Faulkner in Seattle, continues to add material to the "FreeeCharlieNow" web site, most recently, "pre-prison" photos to the photo gallery, and he will be visiting Florida soon. I successfully completed my e-mail interview with Hettie Jones in New York, a singularly amazing woman in her own right, great poet and writer, who performed a "literary MRI" on my brain with her incisive questions. Her interview will appear on the "PEN" international literary group's web site soon (July) at

Even with all the trials and attacks, or perhaps ignited by them, in part, I have been going through a remarkably productive period of creativity, the past couple of months. I've sent out for typing and editing several short stories, poems, essays, and memoirs, including my latest prison account, "They Kidnapped Thurgood," of how and why redneck guards confiscated a sculpture I was doing of Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and how I got it back.

The "Anne Frank Center USA" prison diary project I'm participating in has been particularly thought-provoking and insightful, resulting in a creative cross-pollination with the blogs and stories. If you haven't read Anne Frank's "Diary of a Young Girl," or it has been a long time, you should. She was an amazing writer who I admire greatly.

Time for work. Keep in touch, and let freedom ring for all.

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